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Hung Up on Market Days

(Photo: Averting my gaze from Chicago’s big gay fest.)

Let the gay community come and take my toaster oven back. I’m not a fan of Market Days. Yes, I know it’s the largest street festival in the Midwest and the high point of Chicago’s LGBT calendar.

To me, it always feels like a Queer Taste of Chicago.  As it follows the Taste on the summer social calendar, however, by the time Market Days rolls around, I’ve already spent quite enough time wading through crowds, eating over a trash can, and peeing in a porta-potty.

Why anyone would consider these endurance tests as “signature events” is beyond be. Well, maybe I can understand the hordes ofsuburban Wal-Mart shopping, Stein-Mart wearing heterosexuals who flock to the Taste each year.

But queerdom, please.  Does a “Twister with a Porn Star” booth really deserve to be the centerpiece of anyone’s annual block party?

Not so much, as far as pastry chef Chris and I thought as we squeezed our way up Halsted Street on Saturday afternoon.  From Belmont north to Addison, I tried to get into the fun.  Trouble is, in the 45 minutes it took to survey the festival, I never found any.

Maybe it’s just me.  Back in my 1980s Gay and Lesbian Youth of New York days, it was the same thing. Everyday Saturday night, 100 or so of us would flash our fake IDs and descend on Uncle Charlie’s, Pyramid, or Tracks.  There we’d be at the bar or on the dance floor: 99 shiny, happy, groping, gyrating gay youths, and one outlier wondering why anyone would want to define themselves solely in sexual terms.

Two decades later, America’s gay community is mainstream now.  So why is it that the back of every gay publication is still filled with ads for 900 numbers?

Don’t get me wrong, I like sex as much as the next guy. Trouble is, every time I meet the next guy in this community, sex is all he wants to talk about. Consider it the Doyle Survey: one out of two auditioning admirers has nothing else on his mind in the LGBT community. What’s a guy who knows he’s more than just his libido to do?

Libido was certainly the hot topic of conversation over the weekend on the Bear411-osphere. Considering how beefy we Chicagoans are in general, a zaftig-minded gay dating website is a perfect match for this town. Considering how popular Market Days is, I was surprised the site didn’t just put up a test pattern until Monday.

One instant message after another had only one thing in mind:

“Did you see the hot guys at Market Days?”

“Did you see anyone anyone you slept with?  I ran into my exes for hours!”

“The muscle guy on the ladder shot me with the Super Soaker and I swear I got a woodie right then and there!”

“Did you play Twister with a Porn Star?”

I have yet to learn how to politely smile and nod on the Internet.  I considered pasting a stock response into every open IM window.  Something to the effect of:

“Actually, no, I just don’t get into Market Days.   I’m not impressed by bluntly bared body parts.  I like my muscle men fully clothed and engaging me in thoughtful conversation about politics, culture, and gastronomy.  And I’ve already peed in my quota of porta-potties this year.”

Instead, I rolled with the punches and played along. Yes, I saw the hot guys. No, I didn’t see any exes except the one I brought with. How nice for you, did you get Mr. Super Soaker’s number?  No, the gapers block around the Twister booth was a few people too thick to get anywhere near it.

One final IM of the weekend left me wishing I had represented my position on the subject a little more clearly.

HIM: Hey sexy, were you up in my neighborhood for Market Days today?

ME: I was for a little while.

HIM: Did you see all the hotties?

ME: Yes, but I’m not really into them.

HIM: Did you bring any of them home with you?

ME: The only guy I brought anywhere was Chris, for hot wings.

HIM: Oh. Are you horny from seeing all those hotties?

ME: I told you, they don’t really do it for me.

HIM: What does it for you stud?

ME: Intellect and a curious palate.

HIM: That sounds nice. I bet you’re hung.

And I bet he’ll never figure out why I blocked his screenname.

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

My Bio | My Conversion | My Family Reunion


5 replies

  1. I, too, worked a booth both days and while safely behind the table had a great time. However, when I took a break and ventured out amongst the crowd, I was assaulted by some unpleasant raw energy. At one point yesterday, I managed to put by finger on it. Up and down the street, you’d encounter islands of men who all looked alike hovering around one another. There was Bear Island and Twink Island and Muscle Island, etc. There was an extreme lack of diversity within these groups and you could sense there was little of substance happening in these gatherings beyond activities akin to groups of dogs sniffing one another out. Made me sad since I know we’re so much more than that.

  2. “It’s the conduct. I like to be booked in advance before anyone gropes my ass.”

    True. But that falls under the ‘spectrum’ theory as well. That intellectual, reserved type that you’re craving is probably also too shy to come say hello to a stranger. So instead, you get left with the guy who has crossed the line from self-confidence to arrogance and probably thinks you feel blessed to have been touched by him.

  3. I had a wonderful time at Market Days, but then I was volunteering at the I-Go booth. I got to sit down in the shade and talk to people who were curious about something I’m interested in, and I-Go gives me free time in the car for volunteering. So far this summer I’ve racked up about$100 in credits with them.

  4. Matt, thanks for the thoughtful comment. You’re right, the loud, obnoxious ones always get the attention.

    It’s like looking for help in online product forum. Most of the posts you see are from people ranting about their widget woes. The happy ones don’t necessarily jump up and down publicly quite as much.

    True, I can be of two minds in a crowd. I don’t like when anything is overcrowded–hence the move from NYC to Chitown (and the loss of 5 million extra potential crowding bodies along with it).

    It’s not so much the crowd. It’s the conduct. I like to be booked in advance before anyone grope’s my ass. And behind closed doors, if you please.

    Never outside a porta-potty.

  5. Okay, now that I’m a little more awake…

    “It always feels like a Queer Taste of Chicago.” You’re probably right. Ridiculously-priced items, normally unaccomodating weather, and multitudes of manners-deficient people.

    But that all depends on how you view the Taste. I grew up going to several street festivals every year with my parents, including Market Days. Street fests were a relatively cheap way of getting out of the house. We couldn’t always afford restaurants, movies, or concerts, so street festivals were a good way of combining food and entertainment. Prices of course have gone up considerably, but $7 at the gate is still cheaper than most forms of entertainment.

    Also, as I told someone else, the fun you have at Market Days (and other festivals) is HIGHLY dependent upon who you’re with. If I went with my partner, we’d have a decent time because we were out of the house and doing things together. However, if I went with a group of my rowdy friends, I’m sure it’d be a different experience altogether. I’ve also been to events by myself with both good and bad results.

    As you touched on, there’s a personality factor as well. You strike me as someone who prefers dealing with people one or two at a time, rather than en masse. (I’m a little amused by this because you live downtown.) While I thrive in bustling atmospheres, it can be a bit overwhelming.

    The gays’ relationship with sex is a different subject and phenomenon in and of itself. The straight community isn’t without its 900-numbers. Watch late-night TV and you will see plenty of ads for party lines, 3.99-per-minute calls, and pills for “male enhancement.” Perhaps, it’s BECAUSE the gay community is “mainstream” that there ARE so many advertisements toward them. After all, two decades ago, no one would touch GLBT money. Now, they clamor for it. In a society that revolves around marketability and advertisements, it’s a step forward.

    Finally, women have been lamenting for decades, “Where are all the NICE guys?” so it shouldn’t be much surprise that the same phenomenon occurs on our side of the fence. There are guys who think sex is the End-All-Be-All, and there are guys who are more awkward about sex than teenagers after the prom. Guys run the full spectrum when it comes to sex. Unfortunately, the loud obnoxious ones just get all the attention.

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